By Alix Norman
Admit it, there are times you’ve been terrified by orchestral music. It’s just so serious, sensible, and – unless you’re a musician – rather scary (especially when people start bandying round words like ostinato). Most of us seem to believe that the genre – like great art – lurks somewhere just beyond the realm of mortal comprehension; we like it, we can even recognise the odd piece, but it’s probably not meant for those of us who live in jeans and sneakers. Luckily for us, our misconceptions are being challenged by a group of instrumentalists known as one4 all…
An initiative of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, one4all aims to bring music to the people. “We’re attempting to bring the experience of the orchestral sound into everyday life,” says Antonis Bargilly, a member of the CYSO and one of the project’s founders. “We’re sending the message that music is for everyone – not just for serious people, in serious clothes at a serious theatre!”
Taking music to the people is nothing new – buskers and street performers have been doing it for years. But where one4all differs is that the whole of Cyprus’ premier orchestra is involved in a project that includes everything from flash mobs to park concerts to coffee shop pop-up performances. And it’s an idea that came right from the musicians themselves, who suggested the need for a spot more public engagement.
The first venture, Antonis reveals, was the infamous Flash Mob of Phaneromeni, wittily entitled The Passing Game. It happened during the World Cup of 2012, a perfect juxtaposition of football and classical music: two lone players in football strip kicking a ball round the square. There’s an argument, things heat up, a whistle-blowing referee emerges from the crowd. A yellow card, a red card… and just when the ‘game’ appears to be flaming out of control we hear the first, stirring notes of de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance. The spectacle – and the amazing sound – transfixes people in the street. The piece ends with an extended cadence and a wild cry of ‘goal’, before the two players produce violins – seemingly from thin air – and lead the flash mob into the frenzied Flight of the Bumble Bee.
“The response from the crowd was amazing,” grins Antonis. “The musicians appeared gradually – from balconies, from doorways – until all 40 were producing this massive orchestral sound right there in Phaneromeni. People watching couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces; they stopped and stared – it was incredibly exciting to see!”
It was exactly the reaction the musicians had hoped for when they instigated the project: “We wanted to connect with people, to produce an honest reaction,” Antonis says. “It’s different when someone goes to a concert – of course they’ll clap. But here the people were surprised, it was unexpected and revealed a very instinctive, true reaction.”
It’s the same response, he says, that greets the four ensembles that form Gangs of CY – a division of one4all. Known for popping up unexpectedly at cafés and delighting the public with their impromptu performances, the ensembles “have performed a series of five or six unexpected sets so far and, after a summer break, are getting ready to invade Nicosia’s everyday life again,” says Antonis, mentioning a series of locations around the city, from Kala Kathoumena in the old town to the Coffee Beanery in Makedonitissa. “The Gangs – Amiche String Quartet, T-4-2,The Dark Road Ensemble, and Papageorgiou String Quartet – were also asked to play at two film festivals,” he says of the four ensembles’ increasing popularity, adding that organisers are always surprised to hear there is no performance fee.
“The idea is to communicate with people,” he explains. “So everything we do is free. One4all isn’t about musicians doing their job, it’s about us doing something we love. And it brings moments of real communication without words: when one of the Gangs played a Beethoven String Quartet live in Platanos, Kaimakli, the music became part of the sounds of the city, and people stopped what they were doing to listen and enjoy. There were two girls holding a meeting inside the building,” he recalls. “They came outside and sat for 15 minutes, just listening…”
While many of the initiative’s projects take their enchanted audiences by surprise, one4all does allow for the odd pre-arranged performance. One such was the Orchestra is the City festival, which took place in Acropolis Park in May, and involved the whole of the CYSO. Thousands of people – “families spread sheets on the grass and stayed the whole evening!” exclaims Antonis with a smile – enjoyed the benefits of an open-air concert which featured both classical and traditional Greek music. Another project is the ongoing Storytellers venture, whereby each of the Gangs’ ensembles appears at a specified place and time, not merely to play, but also to share with their audience the story of the music, the group and the orchestra itself.
“In many ways, taking the music to the people is a challenge,” Antonis suggests, laughing at the trials of concealing a double bass when you’re attempting to spring a flash mob on unsuspecting passers-by, or the difficulty of maintaining contact with other instrumentalists when appearing from a crowd. “But I’d say we’ve made a very positive start: we’ve been supported from the beginning by sigmalive, City Free press and Hook Recording Studio in terms of video and sound, and we know we’re having the impact we’d hoped for. Now, we’re just looking for more sponsors to allow us to increase exposure and create really great video and audio of the performances. So that,” he concludes, “we can share our music with an even wider audience.”
In the meantime, some of us are about to lose our fear of orchestral offerings. Because one day this autumn, while you’re enjoying a convivial coffee, you might just discern the delicious strains of one of Brahms Hungarian Dances melting through the crowd. You won’t know where, or when – you may not even know what it is. But it may well change your perception of orchestral music. For good.
one4all is an initiative of the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra which aims to bring orchestral music to the public. For more information, visit the Facebook page ‘One4all – Cyso Musicians’ Initiative’